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Fish primed for playoffs, fan bus set

River Falls Fighting Fish pitcher Dan Morgan delivers a pitch to the plate against the Elmwood Expos Saturday in the Fish's final tune-up game before this weekend's Wisconsin Baseball Association playoffs. Bob Burrows photo.

The River Falls Fighting Fish will head about an hour north for their first Wisconsin Baseball Association playoff game.

The Fish, champions of the St. Croix Valley Baseball League with a record of 14-2, earned a No. 1 seed in their bracket and will take on the fourth-seeded Oulu Blue Jays this Saturday, Aug. 13, at 6 p.m., at Oakey Park in Osceola. Oulu, which is located in Bayfield County just north of the Brule River State Forest, finished 8-6 and tied for third in the Upper-13 League.

Saturday night's winner will move on to face either the second-seeded Whitehall Wolves of the Chippewa River League (14-6) or the No. 3 Grantsburg Honkers of the Independent League (10-6) Sunday at 3 p.m. at Oakey Park for a berth in the WBA finals to be held Aug. 19-21 in Coon Valley, south of La Crosse.

Last Saturday the Fish tuned up for this weekend's semifinal round of the WBA playoffs by hosting the Elmwood Expos for a non-league game on Fan Appreciation Day. With many of the Fish starters on the bench, the Expos rallied for a 5-1 victory to hand River Falls its first home loss of the season.

The Fish take an overall record of 25-7 into Saturday's playoff opener against Oulu. Last year the Fish reached the state final round before losing to the Onalaska Athletics in the semifinal game.

River Falls will rely on a deep pitching staff in its quest for a state title. Lefty Rick Wells (5-0) leads the Fish with a 1.53 earned run average, 59 strikeouts and just 10 walks in 53 innings pitched.

Nate Schurman has appeared in nine games and sports a record of 4-1 with one save and a 1.38 earned run average while Matt Walker is 3-0 with a 0.63 earned run average, 38 strikeouts and just six walks in 29 innings pitched.

Hard-throwing Dan Morgan (5-2) leads the Fish in innings pitched with 59.3. Morgan sports an earned run average of 3.43 with 45 strikeouts and 25 walks.

Trevor Gutting and Ryan Gilbertson have seen the most action out of the bullpen. Gutting is 2-1 with one save while Gilbertson is 1-0 and leads the team in saves with five.

At the plate, the Fish have six players hitting over .300 heading into the playoffs.

Brian Giebel leads the team with an average of .414 with team-highs in RBI (36), doubles (11), and stolen bases (9). Giebel's four home runs are the second-most on the team.

Clint Kempf is hitting .379 with six doubles, one home run and 13 RBI while Walker is hitting .375 in limited at-bats.

Catcher Joel Schaffer leads the team in home runs with eight and has driven in 32 runs with 10 doubles while batting .368. Marty Herum is hitting .350 with six doubles, a triple and a home run while Gilbertson is batting .341 with one home run, five doubles and 14 RBI.

Johnnie's Bar is sponsoring a fan bus to Saturday night's game against Oulu. Cost is $20 per person and includes refreshments on the bus to and from the game. The bus will leave Johnnie's at 4:45 p.m. for the 6 p.m. start. Call Johnnie's at (715) 425-9291 to reserve a seat.

Bob Burrows
Bob Burrows has been sports editor at the River Falls Journal since 1996 and at the Hudson Star-Observer since 2009. Prior to joining the Journal, Burrows served as sports editor with Ledger Publications in Balsam Lake, Wis. A native of Bayonne, N.J. and a U.S. Navy veteran, Burrows attended Marquette University before completing his studies at UW-River Falls in 1992.
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